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5 stars As excited as I was knowing that Astra was going to release a new album, I was also very nervous. The first album had absolutely nothing wrong with it and it left me so satisfied. It became an instant classic in my book and I know that if I stop listenting to that album right now and wait ten years to listen to it again, when I do, I will cry from how good the music is. Now, with the Black Chord, Astra has shown that they are a proper band. A proper band has to have a proper follow-up album and this is it. I can't say that it is better or worse than the first album nor can I say that it's more of the same. It is something new, yet something just as satisfying. Cocoon has such a mellow entrance that cradles you with its slow beat and you know right away that this is just going to feel so natural. The title track shows the band getting more elaborate in their song writing. It almost sounds like some Swedish Symphonic prog band sometimes, yet you can tell that these guys don't try as hard as other bands. The time signatures are not out-of-this-world yet impressive enough to appeal to the proggiest of prog heads. Since they don't try as hard, it make the music sound like it was done by humans, making the sound so personal and relatable. It's so refreshing to know that there are still musicians who can still pump out original tunes without deliberately throwing in confusing time changes. That approach can be very alienating. Quake Meat was the song that I heard first since they released it to the public as a teaser. They should not have done that. It made the wait for the album feel much longer. The flanger effect on the vocals are the hightlight for me oddly enough. The Vocal pattern gives off this feeling of desperation, almost like you should be bracing for something. In other words, the song has good Drive. I definately feel like driving faster when I listen to this song. Drive is a characteristic that I look for in Songs. It's one of my favorite styles of song writing. Another type of song that I love is the song that has melancholy. This describes the next song on the album, Drift. Although it does have some more triumphant moments, The main verses sound somber, despite the fact that I have no idea what they are singing. Bull Torpis speed the album back up with some more drive. It's obviously a passing thought, but I am grateful that they released it. Barefoot in the Head Is just a good song. If you read this far, just take my advice and buy the album. You review Barefoot in the Head for yourself. You won't regret it, unless you have no soul. I have a feeling that there will be reviewers out there who will say that there is nothing new here. They will just say that it's just a clone of some 70's prog band that uses the same equipment. Astra does use lots of Mellotron and Hammond organ in their music and the guitar tones are not so flashy. The Drum sound is also not so overpowering, as it tends to be in newer music being released. Although I do agree that they are definately playing with the intent to sound retro, I do not hear similarities between the song writing of today and the 70s. Astra has managed to play a style that is timeless. There were bands that made music in the 70s that was timeless also. Bands such as Pink Floyd, Yes(The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, Relayer), and King Crimson used similar equipment, But neither sounded like the other nor did they sound like they belonged in the time that they were in. Why can't Astra do the Same? Just go get this album already!
Report this review (#689164)
Posted Monday, March 26, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Sorry but I really cannot believe It.'.is this this a work of nowadays prog?

This is not a masterpiece of psychedelic space rock this is a masterpiece of symphonic prog rock. a masterpiece of progressive rock in general.

Yes the lovely 70 ies prog have return...Yes is here...unbelievable .

Incredible songs....I feel as listening old Genesis old King Crimson the best Hawkwind..sometimes de best PF.

So very good musicians too.

In my opinion the best album in the last 5 years(at least) .

This guys do really new things , hopeness things ...yes progressive rock is alive and not only for the bands that are inspired in the old days...this is from the new days and is excellent.

A masterpiece

Report this review (#693399)
Posted Tuesday, March 27, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
5 stars Astra pay tribute to classic 70s prog with a cosmic intergalactic mosaic of sound and fury.

I was so impressed with Astra's 'The Weirding' masterpiece that as soon as I laid eyes on this enigmatic new album, 'The Black Chord', I had to have it. Immediately, the style of Astra's modrn space rock meets classic 70s prog, is prominent. The album takes us on a mesmirising journey that at times is sumptuous tranquillity and at other times launches into heavy space guitar collisions. Every track offers something very special and never disappoints. I am in awe at how Astra capture the 70s sound and yet inject, and even reinvent, a modern approach to progressive psych rock.

'Cocoon' begins with howing solar winds and then ambient spaciness building with menace. The echoed guitar howls over, a drum beat settles into a steady measured pace. The glissando Hackett like guitars of Brian Ellis begin an improvised psychedelic melody. A riff locks in with twin guitars overlayed, and a fusion of keyboards smolders along tinging the edges of the sound. The music is uplifting as it builds to a faster cadence. The repetition of the riff is broken by a frantic keyboard and guitar run with very fast arpeggios. An intonation of lead guitar swells over and then is saturated by a bubble bath of synths. A wonderful melody takes over and caresses my ears, and I am in prog heaven. This is an inferno of prog excess, an instrumental with a very distinct 70s style sound, with odd time tempos, and percolating liquid keys. The guitars are drowned out by synths that fade and we hear manic drumming from David Hurley and more wind howling to end this awesome opener to the album.

It segues straight into the mammoth 'The Black Chord' that is a mosaic of colour and musical motion, with a windtunnel of keyboard, and some unusual chilling sounds leading to Conor Riley's piano phrases. The piano keeps some semblance of melody before we hear the psychedelic vocals of Richard Vaughan in early Pink Floyd style. Lyrics include; "Told the tall tale, Chapter and the verse, On the balance, Bounty and a curse, Into bright white, Only to reverse, For the Earth, Swallows whole." There are accents of acoustic picking and grinding organ with tons of tron. The music is fuelled with high octane guitars, with echoes of Hawkwind or early Genesis. There is a great progressive riff, and some spacey vox as it builds patiently. Some nice effervescent ambient pads fizz through as a delightful guitar chimes out heavy riffage. The bass of Stuart Sclater permeates the sound with comparable pulsating heartbeats. The tempo switches are dynamic and cutthroat razor sharp. There are touches of King Crimson, Caravan, Yes and Hawkwind imbedded in the billowing soundscape. It is a glorious cosmic journey with wavebreaks of modulating synthetic rhythms. The epic track transgresses into a lengthy shimmering organ, heavily phased guitars and sporadic drumming. It is an incredible master track full of sound and fury, a cacophony of cosmic musak topped with lashings of heavy psych prog like swirls of cosmic debris. A masterpiece of vivacious musicianship.

'Quake Meat' is an astonishing prog paradise. After a rapid fire killer riff the extreme psychedelic flanger vox crash through. The guitars of Ellis and Vaughan are ruthless and unremitting, and this is as heavy as I have heard Astra; no distortion, just very cool riffs. Ellis burns with a lead guitar solo and there is a break in transmission. The space effects soon swirl across like glacial planetary clusters, with celestial synths, and chunks of vociferous flute warble as a wah wah guitar break intercedes; Prog grandeur. Hawkwind blasts of stormy interstellar rays wash over and more phased vox punctuate the horizons. This is mind blowing music; incredible!

'Drift' begins with acoustic vibrations and a synth intro as softened vocals sweetly blend over. The atmospheric and sumptuous beauty is drfting along serenely with hovering mellotrons allowing the music to breathe. It is a lush short piece that acts as a welcome transmission, sandwiched between chaos and mayhem.

'Bull Torpis' is a crazy instrumental with lashings of insane keyboard wizardry from Riley and ultra heavy 70s guitars from Vaughan and Ellis blazing like a fire. The riffs are sensational with a frenetic time sig but the thing holds together with exquisite bass from Sclater and deliriously irregular drumming from Hurley.

'Barefoot In The Head' is an absolutely divine Pink Floyd homage, even inserting similar 'Have A Cigar' riffs, and harmonised spaced out vocals. Lyrics include; "Burning out and barefoot in the head, I'm hanging by a thread the writing on the wall, Lost and bound inside the grey machine, And nothing in between can break the final fall." The mellotron strings are icy cold and overlayed are the incredible spacey lead guitars that soar into the stratosphere. A cavalcade of guitars ends the album with riff upon riff and multi phased lead breaks creating a massive wall of sound. The glissando lead guitars careen off the scale and shimmering keys build to a crescendo. It builds to deafening white out, with droplets of synth and mammoth mellotron waterfalls cascading over, the guitars of Vaughan and Ellis clash together in the maelstrom and then it suddenly cuts off. And another masterpiece track is the result. I just wish it was not over so quickly.

What can be said about a band that sounds so pristine and spaced out, with some of the most amazing musicianship I have heard for a long time. It grows on the listener and is truly inspirational showing how music can sound contemporary and yet remain genuinely reverant to the golden sound of the 70s. Astra encompass everything that I love about prog, odd time sigs, symphonic mellotron soaked scapes with heavy psyched up guitar riffs and gentle meandering vocals. There is nothing better than hearing the modern band maintain the spirit of the 70s in such an affectionate manner. It is never contrived or forced because Astra are true to themselves and consistent in their inventiveness and innovation; not stealing but merely honouring the heritage of prog. This album is a paradise for prog addicts and definitely one of the masterpiece albums of 2012 thus far.

Report this review (#694849)
Posted Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars The black chord is a fantastic album that sounds easily like it could have been recorded in the 70's. In fact, i'd say its probably my favorite album to be released in about 30 years. Its classic psychedelic space prog at its best. While not as long as there nearly perfect debut, this album manages to exceed its quality. It's style in my opinion is kinda like the "red" era king crimson mixed with pink floyd with Yes style album covers. every song is good, no low point in the album. At first, it seemed a little bit repetitive, but the more i listen to it the more i love this album. Its seriously a masterpiece. Buy this album, even if you don't like modern prog ( I know i don't). This is defiantly my favorite modern band and i really look forward to where they go next. and sorry for the grammar.
Report this review (#707208)
Posted Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars I really wonder why the Astra's new album is so exceptional that it had occupied the Top of 2012 Prog albums chart. Perhaps it's a popular by some "fuddy-duddies", who, while listening to old music, like to drink 12-years old whiskey or 60-years old wine. And they just gave the most votes to this "old-new" piece.

So, I'm one of those die-hards, I admit it without torture. But I prefer the originals rather than copies. And the music of the band Astra is just an exemplary case of imitation. Well-known musical motifs and techniques that were developed more than 40 years ago, are blended together into an indeterminate sound wall, which thus becomes to infinitely boring and somewhat insane mixture. Compared to the previous album "The Weirding", Astra eliminated at least some direct and most apparent reminiscences of famous Prog Epics, like "Meddle" or "Cirkus". But this is also the only positive, with whom they come now.

However, it seems to me that the previous album was still more varied and more interesting. So, "The Black Chord"? I would say rather "The Grey Boredom." There is an impression I have from this album.

Just two stars indeed, I'm sorry.

Report this review (#720920)
Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of the few 21st century progressive rock outfit's capable of producing an authentic retro-style sound, San Diego's Astra burst onto the scene back in 2009 with their outstanding analogue-drenched debut 'The Weirding'. Released on both CD and deluxe gate-fold vinyl(yum yum) 'The Weirding' made many of the days modern prog acts seem cheesy and insipid by comparison, the group's muscular blend of earthy, metallic riffs, dense mellotron swirls, other-worldly lyrics and lengthy, complex song suites harking right back the genre's early 1970s golden era yet also encompassing a decidedly contemporary edge, thus lending Astra a unique and powerful sound all of their own. Three years on, and happily, the boys are back with a brand new studio offering, something that has been keenly anticipated by Astra's growing legion of fans ever since it was announced last year that April 2012 would be the slated release date. Featuring the same five-man line- up of Richard Vaughan(vocals, keyboards, guitar), Stuart Sclater(bass), Conor Riley(keyboards, vocals), Brian Ellis(guitar) and David Hurley(drums, flute) and recorded in their native California, 'The Black Chord' picks up right from where it's predecessor left-off, more-or-less utilising the same formula that made 'The Weirding' such a progressive masterpiece. Right from the grazing instrumental mysticism of 'Cocoon', which provides a suitably dense beginning, 'The Black Chord' once more demonstrates both Astra's love of classic prog and heavy rock sounds and their consumate musical abilities with instruments old and new. Fans will be pleased to hear that 'The Black Chord' has much in common with 'The Weirding', yet this is no facsimile album. Simply put this is shorter, sharper and slicker than before, with less musical wandering and a slightly more focused set of compositions that once again feature the group's stylistic hallmarks of carefully-wrought mellotron-and-moog passages, bouts of sustained rock riffery and a heady, hazy atmosphere engineered by the old school instruments. Sometimes the group maybe lose their way a little, as on the otherwise excellent title-track, yet the balance between dissonant roars of proto-metal psych-rock and celestial sections of shimmering calm are nevertheless maintained throughout, all the while peppered with Vaughan's hash-piped vocals. Finally. 'The Black Chord' ends in suitably bombastic style, initially with the oddly-named 'Bull Torpis' which serves up another helping of fantasy-flecked retrograde prog, before the screeching power-psych metal of 'Barefoot In The Head' brings the curtain down in suitably epic style. Following up 'The Weirding' was never going to be easy, especially considering that album's mature and highly-intricate sonic imprint(thus sounding like a genuine product of the 1970s from a veteran outfit) yet this sophomore release shows that Astra are no one-trick pony. Although 'The Black Chord' doesn't deviate too far from the sonic stall set out by it's predecessor, it's still a remarkable album filled with the kind of classic progressive grandstanding that is hard to find in these digital days. Undoubtedly one of the premier modern groups, Astra have here produced another excellent album; we await the next one with baited breath.


Report this review (#731383)
Posted Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars When I first listened to this album, I had the vague and pleasant feeling that the present record manages to capture those classic prog nuances. I shall not approach this review analitically because I feel that the album has an internal coherence, start to finish. It should not be listened to with a song-by-song method, but as a journey. And a fine musical journey it is.

However, I am not gonna give this one a five star because there is one thing missing: progressiveness. By this I do not mean that it is not a prog album. On the contrary, it is a - very - prog album. But, it is rooted so powerfully in classic prog sounds, song structures, scales and rhythms, that it hardly reaches new grounds in terms of musical forwardness. The original element here is more of a reinterpretation / re-evaluation of the classic prog album. However, it is not an original album in the way, let's say, 70's King Crimson albums were. Not groundbreaking...

I really enjoyed it and shall certainly listen to it again and again. The effort these guys made must be thoroughly appreciated. For nostalgic prog heads this will trully be a delight.

Keep 'em coming guys!

Report this review (#748942)
Posted Saturday, May 5, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Vintage atmospheric psychedelic prog

Well, I dunno if that is the right category for the music of Astra. Well, for most of you, you will find this album as retroactive prog music in the past as you might find elements of Pink Floyd, Nektar, Hawkwind, Genesis and bits of ELP. But for me this can be categorized as new inventions influenced by vintage prog sounds and the band has successfully crafted the music uniquely - hey, try to guess any band on planet earth that sounds similar with their music! It's hard, really. You might find in some style of keyboard or guitar that is similar. But I really don't care who actually influence the band as I enjoy the music very well.

The first thing I like about the music is how it flows in crescendo from basically silent part and it goes faster as demonstrated by the opening track Cocoon (8:45). Oh man .... I do enjoy the flow of the music which moves eventually from the slow parts into much dynamic parts with great combined work of guitar and keyboard. The second track The Black Chord (14:59) has different style but still find its roots of seventies prog sounds. You might find some nuances of King Crimson as well right here with this track.

The second thing I like about this album is - of course - the vintage sounds that blend nicely seventies sounds into modern prog Look at the second track which happens to be the album title, you find everything you expect from seventies prog. Not only that, the melody through its vocal line is marvelous! You might find a nuance of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man but played in psychedelic style. It sounds awkward but it results great music and excellent listening experience!

The third thing I love is the composition. It has basically strong and memorable melody - try second track Black Chord or sixth track Barefoot In The Head - even though other tracks have great melody as well. The harmonies resulted from contributions of musical instruments - guitar and organ / mellotron are really excellent. There are many great guitar solo combined with mellotron / organ work and very good vocal line.

Overall, this is an excellent addition to any prog music collection. For those who were there in the seventies, I guarantee you would love this album as you would find elements that connect you directly to your teenage world. Try first and second track, you will be amazed! And then go spin the last track, I am sure you agree with me. Otherwise, how prog are you man? ..... Keep on proggin' ...!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#752293)
Posted Saturday, May 12, 2012 | Review Permalink
PSIKE Team & Band Submissions
4 stars The fans had to wait nearly three years ... but now the unique sound of ASTRA is back. Their sophomore album 'The Black Chord' blends psychedelic with symphonic ingredients in its own inimitable way, based on a really virtuoso implementation at times. The line up remained steady during recent years, so does the sound ... in general. Which means this will please all those progressive music lovers who already have enjoyed the predecessor 'The Weirding'.

Although guitars and keyboards are equally prominent as usual I would emphasize the latter here. Conor Riley and Richard Vaughn provide a cornucopia of impressions - Moog, synthesizer, piano, mellotron and Hammond unlimited - you won't miss anything on this occasion. By the way ... guitarist Brian Ellis is in control of the beloved mellotron too, not in ASTRA though, however at least when it comes to his diverse solo projects, which I also like.

An ambient/spacey intro leads us into Cocoon which bears several repetitive motifs, however slightly modified over the course. Evolving from mid to up-tempo rocking this a gripping affair really. The title songs differs while certainly gaining a symphonic outfit featuring more complexity and turns. Besides distorted vocals Quake Meat shows a wonderful spacey interlude, followed by the floydy Drift and Bull Torpis which I only wished to be more extended due to a very melodic implementation - great track.

'The Black Chord' is a substantial effort provided with strong vintage references to the glorious 1970s, especially Pink Floyd and Genesis are shimmering through here and there. Supposed to be manufactured as vinyl, hence the total length is limited. Overall presented as good as the debut at least - a recommended affair again for sure. You shouldn't miss this band.

Report this review (#753223)
Posted Monday, May 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Well, to be honest, I was ready to condemn it after the first listenings... but then I got to like it!

It's too easy to be proud about the sources of the band's material, but what's the point? We aren't getting any new material from the 'old' sources these days, and I like the kind of material being offered here. Always have.

So, you could say that it's a mix of Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, Yes and Rick Wakeman, but of course it's NOT them! I wouldn't say that it overall sounds like the Floyd, which was maybe the impression that I was getting before I'd actually heard it. The band try to find parts of the classics that worked, and then try to incorporate them into their sound. Rather like trying to dig five tunnels under a river, and getting them to meet up successfully!

Where the album fails (for me at least), is that it isn't reflective enough. See? I told you it wasn't like the Floyd. She runs at quite a pace.

Anyway, the surprise is that they give the album a great ending, in the true spirit, no less.

Yes, I was cynical, but the download was well cheap, so I thought I'd see if my brother (a Floyd fan) might like it. I don't reckon that he would actually, (because it's too fast-paced), but don't that put you off giving it a go.

It's not groundbreaking, but you can see where the sources of the material are, so if you liked that kind of thing 40 years ago, you'll probably give it the thumbs up.

Also, if you're like me, it seems that you might need to give it a proper chance to ultimately win you over.

Report this review (#768402)
Posted Saturday, June 9, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars An album that has a well-produced retro sound with solid performances and meaty compositions but it is lacking the hooks and melodies that would bring me back.

1. "Cocoon" (8:43) is an instrumental song in the space-psychedelic/Komische rock instrumental jam vein. (8/10)

2. "The Black Chord" (14:59) has a gorgeous beginning but the runs into a few rough patches. Nice Yes-like guitar and Mellotron melodies in several places. (9/10)

3. "Black Meat" (6:41) takes a step backwards in terms of sound and structural choices. In my opinion this is a much less mature and well-thought out song with subpar performances that don't gel well. (6/10)

4. "Drift" (4:39) is a soft, low key presentation of simple instrumental support for some interesting layering of vocal harmonies. Interesting but just lacking that melodic sensibility necessary to hook the listener in. (8/10)

5. "Bull Torpis" (2:56) opens with a very RUSH-like familiarity--even though it is keyboard-led and the guitars never get up to Alex LIFESON competency. I fail to see the need or purpose of this one. (6/10)

6. "Barefoot in the Head" (9:13) (9/10) has more of a PINK FLOYD/ELOY sound and feel to it.

Four stars.

Report this review (#768505)
Posted Saturday, June 9, 2012 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars Well if ASTRA's previous album "The Weirding" did it for you then you'll love "The Black Chord". They continue in that same late sixties, early seventies Psychedelic style with plenty of mellotron and vintage sounds. This one is quite a bit shorter than the previous one clocking in at just over 47 minutes.

"Cocoon" opens in a mellow way as spacey winds arrive. It's building until the guitar is lighting it up as the drums pound. The tempo picks up after 4 minutes. This continues until it turns spacey late to end it. "The Black Chord" is a 15 minute beast. The guitar, drums and mellotron lead early then the piano joins in followed by vocals before 2 minutes. It turns instrumental before 4 1/2 minutes then settles back after 6 minutes. The vocals are back after 7 1/2 minutes as themes are repeated. The guitar is ripping it up late.

"Quake Meat" has an excellent instrumental intro then the vocals arrive 1 1/2 minutes in before the intrumental work takes over again. It settles 2 1/2 minutes in with mellotron. It's intense again after 4 minutes and vocals follow. "Drift" opens with gentle guitar and synths. Reserved vocals join in this melancholic sounding soundscape. It's fuller after a minute as contrasts continue. Lots of mellotron too. "Bull Torpis" is spacey yet heavy. The mellotron storms in followed by the guitar after a minute as it starts to solo. Just a great track. "Barefoot In The Head" is named after the book author Brian Aldiss wrote which I guess you could say is in the (ahem) counter-culture domain. This one reminds me of PINK FLOYD with the vocals and heaviness. Later before 8 minutes we get some ripping guitar in a repetitive soundscape.

Recommended to space cadets the world over.

Report this review (#802290)
Posted Thursday, August 9, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Astra are a progressive/psychedelic/space rock band from California. The combination of sounds they display is very much influenced by early 70s progressive and psychedelic rock. Two influences that stand out are Pink Floyd and Yes, but darker and more sinister, as if on a bad acid trip. The Black Chord is the second full length album from the band, which originated from the band Silver Sunshine. A lineup change and shift in sound, and the band known as Astra was created. Employing dark Moog synths and mellotrons, trippy guitar melodies, and tribal sounding drums, they craft a wonderfully space-y journey through time.

The tone for this album is set right away, with wind sounds and a cosmic keyboard chord fading in on 'Cocoon'. The song builds and builds in mood, getting faster and more intense. The title track is a mammoth, 15 minute long cosmic trip. It varies its mood and pace expertly, making for a fantastic experience. The entire album manipulates the atmosphere very well, going between mellotron driven relaxed passages, tense progressive flourishes, and the occasional acoustic guitar lead.

The musicianship on the album is very precise and well-developed. The drumming stands out for being complex and fluid, without being over the top. The guitar parts are very free flowing, never seeming content to fall into a repetitive pattern, and the bass guitar follows suit, and the keyboards provide a perfect backdrop for all of this to take place. In addition to the individual parts being excellent, the songs are written well which allows all the pieces to fit together perfectly. The flow within and between each of the songs is fantastic, essential for the ambitious tone and structure that Astra is going for.

The Black Chord is an ambitious mix of progressive rock, psychedelic folk, and space rock. Astra have truly been able to forge a sound that is a throwback to the classics while still being its own unique entity. The band has a very bright future ahead of them if they can continue improving at this pace.

Score: 81

Report this review (#930123)
Posted Thursday, March 14, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Nearly four years have passed since I purchased this album, and it has become an important disc for me as it was one of the first I bought after I discovered the significance of both prog rock and this site. As I have stated in other reviews, I had only ever heard of progressive rock once when it was mentioned in an Austin Powers movie in reference to the Alan Parsons Project. Yet my music collection included many of the albums that are on this esteemed web site. When I finally understood what prog was (thanks to Wikipedia and this site here), I began seeking out progressive artists, and Astra's striking album cover caught my attention on Amazon one day while I was searching for modern day prog bands.

My impression has not changed over the years. This is always an enjoyable album to listen to. It's not too long (unlike their debut, "The Weirding") and the tracks are kept at a reasonable length, completed perfectly in their given time frames. As I listened to this album yet again tonight, though, I was once more struck by the impression that this is really space travel music. You'll know what I mean when you hear the slow and gradual building up of the first track, "Cocoon". It takes you for a ride over the surface of a barren but exotic planetary landscape at sunrise before launching you to the stars and through gaseous nebulae and spiraling galaxies.

Astra are five lads from California who know how to capture the cosmic rock of the early seventies. Somewhat like the child of 1969-71 Pink Floyd and Hawkwind but inheriting Pink Floyd's more laid back style, Astra are big on Moog synthesizers and Mellotrons but of course including electric and acoustic guitars along with the quintessential bass and drums. One member is also credited with flute. A retro band to be sure but a very good one. The music is not hugely complex but rich in textures, the Mellotron used to create that space age fantasy soundscape. Acoustic guitar doesn't figure in much except in "Drift", and when I hear it in "Barefoot in the Head", the guitar notes are more like sparkles of twinkling starlight glittering through gaps in the obscuring nebulous gasses in the slowly shifting dust of a starfield.

The music is generally quite laid back and slow but it can break into gallops, the brief instrumental "Bull Torpis" being the one track the moves along at a hurried pace. There are suitable flourishes of guitar solos and keyboards, and the vocals are soft in that old Pink Floydian way and sometimes distorted slightly to add to the spacey effect. I believe there are two vocalists and their harmonized vocals also fit right with to the overall effect.

Though not everyone views retro-prog favourably, I think in a case like this where it is accomplished so well one has to give credit. This is one far out piece of work. If there is any flaw great enough to deny the album a five-star rating it's the production sound. I'm not sure if it was intentional but the dynamic range seems to be lacking. I'd love to be able to hear the music captured more clearly and the life of the instruments rendered more generously. This is a step up from their debut which had a much inferior sound quality. I can only hope that if they ever get around to recording a third album it will be better produced. But again, it almost seems as though it was done intentionally because the lack of dynamic range doesn't totally dampen the music. Perhaps they were going for this kind of effect.

A worthwhile album to check out, and gosh darn it all, Astra, guys, get another album out sometime soon, will you? You do stellar work!

Report this review (#1534896)
Posted Thursday, March 3, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars If you're going to do retro-prog thing you're already running the risk of churning out something that prog fans have heard all too many times before; Astra manage to avoid that pitfall by not opting for the standard circa-1972 Genesis or Yes influences that dominate the work of so many other retro-prog and neo-prog groups, but instead go all out to recapture the sound of a somewhat earlier phase of progressive rock, that organ-tastic era from 1969 to 1971ish where the roots of prog in the earlier psychedelic scene were much more apparent and the divisions between psych, prog, and heavy music were not so finely delineated. The end result is an album which could have happily come out with a Vertigo swirl label back in the day alongside the likes of Cressida, Catapilla, or Colosseum.
Report this review (#1639704)
Posted Saturday, November 5, 2016 | Review Permalink

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